Night at the Conservatory: A look back at FLEUROTICA

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alt text By Kristen Jeré Simmons Environmental Health and Wellness Reporter, The Real Chi

On Friday October 12th, Garfield Park Conservatory hosted their annual plant-based fashion show, FLEUROTICA. A visually stunning event, FLEUROTICA combined bio-degradable materials with the aesthetics of runway fashion. Here’s what the evening looked like.

Night approaches and the usually sunlit Garfield Park Conservatory that hosts families enjoying a Sunday afternoon or guests strolling through its’ many flower gardens is transformed into an oasis of plant based high fashion. Any other day, you would see light beaming through the glass roof onto rows of vegetation. You would hear droplets of water streaming into the massive koi pond while the smell of lilac and lemongrass envelopes the senses.

But tonight, the typical trickling of the indoor waterfall pouring onto a bed of mossy rocks is drowned out by the hum of a live band playing smooth jazz. Where tourists and neighborhood residents usually stand snapping pics on their phones, there are round tables dotted with candles and wine glasses.

This is FLEUROTICA—a world where art, fashion and nature coexist in harmony in a space that looks like the center of a rainforest grown especially for artists. Tonight, the Conservatory is hosting its annual plant based fashion show, where runway haute couture reimagined using one hundred percent biodegradable material.

“The Conservatory...I think it’s one of the most underrated venues”.

Backstage, the greenery that is still and silent by day comes to life under the warm glow of an October moon. Anthurium flowers are piled across tables and entangled with calabash leaves as they are prepped for their transformation into wearable vegetation.

“The Conservatory...I think it’s one of the most underrated venues,” says Frederick Dunson, a designer who is participating in his 6th FLEUROTICA. Backstage, he and other designers scatter like mice to their Cinderellas to transform mounds of flowers and spools of thread into a lineup of living ballgowns. At his prep area, a member of Dunsons’ team paints on the body of a model with a pallet of lavender and cerulean that mimics the floral hues found in nature.

A model graces the runway in a floral head piece and brown gown

A model graces the runway in a floral head piece and brown gown

On the other side of the room, an artist plucks baby pink roses from their stems and glues them with perfect symmetry to the hem of a ball gown. A headpiece made from tree bark appears to grow from a model’s head to form a crown.

Two sisters work on a dress that at the hem looks like a coral colored starfish. The dress is inspired by the angel’s trumpet, a flower that visitors can appreciate on display nearby in the Conservatory’s showroom. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘I have to recreate this,’” says little sister Andrea Shelton, a wedding floral designer at A. Hunt Designs.  

“I tried to just keep it very lighthearted,” said Brittney Kee a teacher at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. Kee has a group of seniors gathered around her as they tend to the design with glue guns loaded and scissors ready to snap stems. Her creation is made from a selection of pastel flowers ranging from muted violets to mint green, “Ethereal, princessy kind of quality [is what I was going for],” Kee says.

As the magic of the night begins to die down, plants retreat to their pots as designers return to their daily lives. Kee will go back to crafting lesson plans for her students, teaching classes on plant anatomy and physiology. The florists will put away their sewing kits and turn back to their floral arrangements. “If I could just do floral fashion shows for the rest of my life and not do any other flowers, I would do it,’” says Shelton.

The next day, the Conservatory too will function as usual— families exploring its gardens and taking refuge from Chicago’s’ fast approaching winter. Until, next year when the magic of FLEUROTICA will begin again.